190 B- POLEVOI Alexei felt troubled for the rest of the day. He even missed his evening walking exercise and turned in before everybody else; but the springs of his mattress twanged long'after the rest of the patients had fallen asleep. Next morning, before the nurse was barely in the room, he asked her whether there were any letters for him. There were no letters. He washed and ate his breakfast listlessly, but he took a longer spell of walking exercise than usual; to punish himself for the weakness he had shown the previous evening he did fifteen extra laps to make up for the exercise he had missed. This unexpected achievement caused him to forget his anxiety. He had proved that he could move freely on his crutches without growing too tired. The corridor was fifty metres long. Multiplied by forty-five, the number of times he had walked up and down, that made two thousand two hundred and fifty metres, or two and a quarter kilome- tres, the distance from the officers' mess to the airfield. He mentally went over that familiar track that led past the ruins of the old village church, past the brick block of the gutted school which gazed mournfully at the road out of the hollow sockets of its paneless windows, through the wood where the fuel trucks covered with fir branches were hidden, past the commander's dugout, and past the little wooden hut where, poring over maps and charts, the "meteorological sergeant" performed her rites. A good stretch! By heaven, quite a good stretch! Meresyev decided to increase the daily exercises to forty-six laps, twenty-three in the morning and twenty- three in the evening, and to try next morning, when he was fresh after the night's rest, to walk without crutches. This at once diverted his mind from his gloomy thoughts, raised his spirits and put him in a practical frame of mind. In the evening, he commenced his exercise with such enthusiasm that before he was aware of it he had done over thirty laps. Just at this moment he was inter- rupted by the appearance of the cloak-room attendant with a letter. The letter was for him. The small envelope was addressed: "Senior Lieutenant Meresyev. Strictly confidential." The word "strictly" was underlined, and Alexei did not like the look of that. The letter inside was also marked "strictly confidential" and also underlined.